March 11, 1996 in Nation/World

Legislators Ready To Wrap It Up Session’s Remaining Bills Include Speed Limits, Drunken Driving Change, Raises For Judiciary

Quane Kenyon Associated Press
 

The major battles are over, and the Idaho Legislature appears headed toward adjournment of its 1996 session this week.

Legislative leaders hope to adjourn late in the week, perhaps Thursday. That would make the session 67 days.

The 1973 session ran 65 days, but since then only one regular session has been less than 67 days long.

There still are contentious issues to be resolved. But the Legislature’s biggest annual job - setting the budget - is virtually complete.

And with Gov. Phil Batt advising lawmakers last week that there is no money for any new programs or any tax legislation that would drain revenue from the state treasury, there will be little sentiment for new spending bills in the final week.

The House Judiciary Committee still must decide whether to lower the state limit for drunken driving from a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent. The bill’s sponsor, Nampa Republican Rep. Ron Crane, wants to make it easier to convict people at the lower levels of intoxication.

Up for a final vote in the House is the Senate-passed bill increasing Idaho speed limits. It would increase interstate speed limits from 65 mph to 75 mph. On other highways the current 55 mph speed limit could be increased to 65 mph in areas where Transportation Department studies indicate it’s safe.

Insurance company attorneys have argued that increasing the speed limits inevitably will cause more accidents, property damage and death. But sponsors say the average speed on interstates already is 72 mph, so the higher limit will make little actual difference.

Legislation giving Idaho’s judges their first pay raise since 1993 is ready for a final vote in the Senate. Judges would get 5-percent raises on July 1 and 4-percent the following year. Chief Justice Charles McDevitt of the Idaho Supreme Court is the state’s highest-paid judge at $80,683 per year.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the issue of “thoroughness” in a school funding lawsuit has not been settled, and revived the suit filed by school districts.

Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore planned to give an update on the impact of that ruling to the House Education Committee today and held a similar briefing for Senate members on Friday.

Gilmore said it’s likely that the lawsuit will be amended to press a claim that Idaho schools offer inadequate facilities.

A backlog of school facilities needs is estimated at $700 million to $1 billion.

Nearing a final vote in the House is a bill that would remove government agencies from 1995’s environmental audit law. It grants companies protection from fines and lawsuits if they uncover environmental problems on their own and report them to the state.

Batt has been urging the Legislature to amend the law to make it clear that government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy and its Idaho National Engineering Laboratory are not covered by it. Batt does not want the government to use the environmental audit law to escape state supervision.

The House is scheduled for a final vote on a Senate-passed bill to double the penalties for sexual exploitation by a medical provider. The measure could subject a medical provider to up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for “enhanced battery,” or improper sexual touching.

Complaints now must be filed within one year of the alleged offense. The new law would provide a two-year filing period.

The new crime would apply to physicians, surgeons, dentists, psychotherapists, chiropractors, nurses or other medical providers who engage in inappropriate sexual contact for the purpose of sexual arousal.


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